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Democracy Now

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TOPIC FREQUENCY

Abrams 6, Herculaneum 5, Moka 5, Ongka 5, Webster 5, David Webster 4, Us 4, Maya 4, Widmer 3, William Sanders 3, Chiefdom 3, Acropolis 3, Gordon 3, Reima 2, Dolph Widmer 1, Butz Chan 1, Rebecca 1, Arturo Sandoval 1, Rebecca Storey 1, Online 1,
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  LINKTV    Democracy Now    News/Business. Independent global news hour featuring news  
   headlines, in depth interviews and investigative reports....  

    September 28, 2012
    3:00 - 4:00pm PDT  

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funding for this program was provided by... emperor marcus aurelius ruled 50 million people on three continents when he immortalized himself in bronze and gold.
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now, in the ruins of the roman empire, scholars grapple with an age-old question -- how does any one leader acquire so much power ? from the tribes of highland new guinea and the chiefdoms of the american northwest, to the kingdoms of the ancient maya, archaeologists trace the evolution of human leadership. theirs is a journey through time seeking clues to the emergence of the state. join us now at the dawn of a civilization to uncover the roots of power, prestige and wealth.
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in the pyramids and monuments of the ancient maya, workers search for clues to the emergence of a vanished civilization. these are the ruins of the ancient city of copan, honduras. dozens of stone monuments, called stelae, proclaim the power of mighty beings. until experts could read these carved hieroglyphs, most scholars thought these larger-than-life figures represented maya gods. but we now know they are portraits of copan's rulers,
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with names like butz chan... smoke shell... and the most powerful of all, 18 rabbit. the maya called them "c'ul ahau," or divine lord. the title was inherited. we call them kings since they passed their power to brothers or sons. a dynasty of 16 kings ruled copan for 400 years. how did they first acquire their power ? and how were the maya governed before the kings ?
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to answer such questions, archaeologists discuss their ideas of political change. which says, here's the resolution, but you've got no enforcement. who's the arbitrator ? the arbitrator is the chief. keach: everyone in this group is guided by the same basic model of political evolution. it says that as a society evolves, fewer and fewer people control the wealth, and the rest provide the labor. as distinct classes emerge, rulers centralize political power. political organization changes as populations grow. small bands and tribes evolve into chiefdoms, and finally into states. some states, like ancient rome, become huge empires. these archaeologists want to find out just how far political evolution proceeded in copan. and they want to know why it stopped.
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to discover the roots of that evolution, two archaeologists begin a journey in search of the very first copan residents. rebecca storey is a physical anthropologist -- an expert on human skeletons. storey is joined by archaeologist dolph widmer. both are from the university of houston. as they seek the roots of maya leadership, storey and widmer are inspired by a single basic question. did some of the earliest people here gain more power and prestige than others ? storey: we actually know very little about the earliest inhabitants of the copan valley. what we do know is that there were very few of them because there are not very many archaeological sites from an early period. keach: the archaeologists believe that as early as the eleventh century b.c.,
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a few hundred people farmed here. according to their model, the first settlers were organized as a tribe. with plenty of land, no one person held an economic advantage over anyone else. to test their model, widmer and storey follow guide arturo sandoval to the limestone caves of copan. storey: all we know about the caves surrounding the copan valley is that some of them were explored in the 1890s by an archaeologist named gordon. and in some of them he found what he thought was very early pottery and some human skeletons. widmer: well, here it is. storey: yeah. widmer: it's a little bigger than i thought it would be. storey: it sure is. widmer: okay, here's the entrance. i'll tell you what, rebecca -- i'll go in first.
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you can hand the lantern down to me. storey: that's a good idea. yeah. go ahead. widmer: it's not as tight as it looks, but it does go down. keach: storey and widmer reach the first small chamber. gordon reported that he found the bones and pots in a second chamber beyond this one. storey: looks like a tighter fit than the other one. widmer: oh, yeah, it is. storey: looks longer, too. widmer: yeah, but i can see the bottom. don't see any bats. well, i'm standing in gordon's test pit. storey: human bone. there is human bone here, yes. keach: the cave floor is made of limestone
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and decomposed bat guano. that's the reason for the masks. the dry soil has preserved the bones for 3,000 years or more. storey: good place to put a pit. let's put a pit right here. depending on the age and sex pattern that we find among the skeletons, it will tell us a lot about the social organization of that culture. if everyone is treated the same way, whether they are old or young, male or female, then it's pretty much a society where everyone was equal or treated fairly equally. if however, some people are treated better than others, then it may be an indication that there were inequalities in that society and that not everybody was equal. some people were entitled to a more elaborate burial treatment, for example. ah, back out to where we can stand up. keach: back in her laboratory, storey separated the bones by type.
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it was quickly obvious that we had some of the same bones that were very different in size. and in fact, a bone like this one, the head of the femur, which goes into your hip, is a very good diagnostic bone by size to distinguish sex in most human populations. therefore it was quite obvious that both males and females were present ithe deposit. we were also able to find quite distinct differences in size that indicate children versus adults. so for instance, here's a collar bone. that's a child's. and here's what the adult size would be. then we could look at the vertebra, for instance, and we could find vertebra with nice smooth edges like this. then look at this other vertebra here. see the bone spur coming out ? that's arthritis and happens as a result of age. by looking at all this it's quite obvious that children, adults, males and females and young adults and old adults are all present in the deposit. keach: according to storey, everyone in the cave was treated the same,
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so the burial practice is called egalitarian. but to say that the whole society was egalitarian -- that no one held a formal or inherited position -- would require more evidence. based on their model, however, storey and her colleagues conclude that the leaders of the earliest tribes probably had no real power over their peers. to rely on an abstract model for conclusions can be frustrating. a leader of the excavations in copan since 1980 is archaeologist william sanders. an objective of archaeological research is to try to reconstruct the whole culture from top to bottom, from the economy and technology up to the religion. the problem is that what we find in the field as data is primarily information on technology, on the material culture. you find buildings and pot shards
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and stone tools and things like that. so how do you move from that data to the organization of society and then to their religion and these other aspects of culture ? and there is only one way to do that. and that is to go to living populations, living cultures that are being studied by ethnographers, by our colleagues in cultural anthropology, and use them as analogies. keach: in the 1970s, anthropologists documented a society called the kawelka in the highlan of papua new guinea. the kawelka society numbers about 1,000. they could be either a tribe or a chiefdom, because the population limits defining social types are not fixed. here in the highlands, people raise sweet potatoes and pigs.
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like the first residents of copan, no one here has acquired great individual wealth. but men like ongka can acquire great prestige and influence. such leaders are called "big men," and they represent an important development in the evolution of more complex societies. ongka dresses in his ceremonial costume to lead an economic and social ritual called a moka.
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ten years earlier, ongka received a moka, or gift, of several hundred pigs from perua, a big man from a neighboring tribe. the gift bestowed great prestige on perua, the giver. now ongka wants to show that he has even more prestige, so he plans to present perua's tribe with an even bigger moka. ongka organizes small mokas to call in those pigs that his supporters owe to him. he will then give them to perua in a final big moka. as the women celebrate the smaller gift, ongka sets the date for the larger ritual. even among his supporters, ongka faces competition from other big men like reima. reima has said that he, not ongka,
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would set the date for the next moka. he has few of ongka's political skills, but still threatens to upset the timing of the moka. ongka continues to make deals with his allies. like more egalitarian tribes, big man societies have political systems that rely on the personal persuasiveness and charisma of their leaders. to maintain his prestige, ongka continues to lead small mokas in preparation for the final big one. but as the day approaches, ongka's adversary, reima, jeopardizes the major ceremony. a big man from another tribe has died. reima spreads rumors that ongka killed the man through his sorcery. angered by the accusations, members of ongka's tribe seek revenge against reima.
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planning for the big moka is interrupted. ongka sits down in the road to stop them. he tries to reason with them, but his persuasive abilities are insufficient. big men have greater prestige than leaders of more egalitarian tribes, but they still have no real power over other people. in copan, the team is still looking for the first maya leader who gained greater prestige than his peers. they wonder, did big men emerge here as they did in new guinea ?
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in the center of the copan valley is an area that later became the acropolis, the palaces and temples of the royal family. a half mile away, archaeologists reconstructed a smaller compound called 9n-8, after its location on a map. archaeologist bill fash excavated in this compound in 1981. the buildings on top were completed in the eighth century a.d. the maya built them atop layers of earlier buildings and plaster courtyards. fash dug down through the plazas to ruins from the first millennium b.c. the maya buried their dead here, shortly after the earlier society buried theirs in the caves. stone walls enclosed 50 skeletons, each laid out flat.
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most of the graves looked the same. a pot or a small jade artifact accompanied a few of the skeletons. but there was one individual who was very different, who stood out from the rest, because buried with him were a number of very fabulous offerings. included among those offerings were four ceramic vessels, very finely made pots, two of which carry religious symbolism. this one carries the undulating body of a snake, and the red one here has a very interesting design consisting of what's called a flame eyebrow here over the eye of the sky dragon. keach: the designs were imported from a distant society. this maya man's prestige was reinforced by exotic symbols like this cross. so this individual was involved in religious beliefs that tended to sort of lift him up above the level of his contemporaries.
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he was showing that he had access to esoteric and religious knowledge that his brethren didn't. also buried with this individual was an incredible array of jades. this is far and away the richest single offering of jade found with burials of this middle pre-classic period anywhere in the maya lowlands. keach: clearly, this maya man had acquired great prestige. but was he a big man like ongka, or the leader of a more complex society ? could he have been a chief ? more evidence was needed. some of the last chiefdoms rose and fell among the native americans of the north pacific coast. early in the twentieth century, photographers captured some of their traditions. others were re-enacted. chiefdoms are usually divided into lineages, groups of related people who descend from a common ancestor. individuals more closely related to that ancestor
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inherited a higher rank. the highest ranking men in each lineage were the chiefs. they inherited a titled position symbolized by the totem pole. each of these titled chiefs wanted to organize the salmon harvests because the leader could briefly hold small amounts of wealth before giving it away to his kinsmen in a ritual similar to ongka's moka. but competition for prestige often leads to intense conflict, so anthropologists believe that rules of succession evolved. status was automatically determined by birth. the chief who inherited the highest rank served as the leader of the entire chiefdom. without real power, the highest ranking chief governed with the consensus of the other titled chiefs. in copan, archaeologists search
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for the first evidence of inherited rank. bill fash changes his focus from the ruins at 9n-8 to the temples and palaces of the highest ranking lineage or royal family. the stairways of these tall buildings surround the east court, a raised plaza that sits 100 feet above the valley floor. looking for evidence of the earliest inherited rank, fash descends deep beneath the acropolis. tunneling down to the temples of butz chan, who became the eleventh king in a.d. 578, they peel away the layers of time -- past the ruins of the seventh king, water lily jaguar, who rose to power in a.d. 504.
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finally, they break through the roof of an ancient temple. in the front room of the temple, the workers uncover a carved maya stela. it fixes the monument in time. when a later maya king ritually buried this temple in order to build his own temple pyramid on top of it, he broke off this upper portion of the stela, and wedged it between these two columns in the front part of the temple. the inscription itself tells us of a very important date early in copan's history. the date in the maya calendar reads 9 baktuns, zero katuns, zero tuns, zero huinals and zero kins. it corresponds to the year a.d. 435, making this the earliest known inscription from copan. keach: some archaeologists estimate that by 435 the population of the valley had grown to include between 2,000 and 4,000 people. that size suggests copan was then a chiefdom.
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the name of the ruler who actually commemorated this stela appears up here on the side of the monument. keach: although archaeologists can't yet read his name, he describes himself here as having an eye like the sun. later kings would use the same description for themselves. in the next glyph, he says that his father was the man named in a third glyph -- the founder of the dynasty. this is the earliest evidence that copan rulers passed their rank to heirs. a big man could not do that. to some archaeologists, this was evidence of ongoing leadership, of a ranked society, a chiefdom. after the reign of the first kings of copan, the population continued to grow to about 15,000 by a.d. 700. at this level, some societies begin to form states -- political organizations where real power is centralized.
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but was there evidence that the highest ranking chief actually consolidated rulership to become head of state here ? these are stelae of the twelfth ruler of copan, a man named smoke imix. as king, he was the head of the highest ranking lineage, the royal family. he and his predecessors probably controlled the valley's best land immediately surrounding the acropolis. the rest of the valley was controlled by the heads of 40 or more competing lineages, like the one at 9n-8. beginning in a.d. 600, many new houses appeared. within the reign of smoke imix, the population nearly doubled. conflicts over the best land on the valley floor surely increased. to resolve such disputes, centralized rulers often emerge. was smoke imix declaring this new authority at these locations
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on the outskirts of the copan valley ? here on a hillside at the valley's east end, smoke imix erected this carved stela. it was the first time any of the copan kings had located a stela away from the royal compound. he placed three more @telae at the other boundaries. was he staking a claim to the entire valley ? the heir to smoke imix consolidated additional power. his name was 18 rabbit. 18 rabbit built the great plaza and filled it with larger-than-life portraits of himself. he ordered construction of a palace known today as structure 22. could his large personal residence mean that 18 rabbit centralized authority
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and served as the head of a state ? to answer this, archaeologists would need an objective way to measure power. archaeologist elliot abrams and two stone masons climb to an ancient maya quarry site. abrams is trying to calculate just how much labor the king had under his command. how many workers were required to build the palace of 18 rabbit ? abrams: it would be wonderful to observe mayan indians building the structures that they built at copan. of course, that's impossible, so we have to set up experiments which replicate the behaviors as best as possible. keach: abrams times each of the construction phases as the maya might have performed them.
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knowing the maya used only stone tools, abrams estimates that two people could quarry over 3,000 pounds of rock in a day. he times the other processes, like transportation, knowing that the maya had no wheels or draft animals. abrams also times the manufacture of the blocks and construction of part of a wall. five cubic feet takes 80 minutes. by measuring all the walls in a building, abrams estimates the time needed to complete the masonry. he then adds this figure to the times for other processes like back-filling dirt behind the walls and plastering the exterior.
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abrams: i selected structure 22 to quantify as an example of royal palaces in the main group. when the methodology was applied to that structure, it was concluded that the energy expended was about 30,000 person days. keach: that would be 300 people working for 100 days in the dry season -- the only time that they didn't have to farm. the homes of the laborers required 50 to 100 person days, perhaps a few people working for a month. by far, these were the most common type of household in copan. the disparity provided more evidence that a state had indeed evolved. king 18 rabbit built more than any other copan king, before or after him, according to william sanders. sanders: i think this would be the time when the power of the lineage heads was at its weakest and the power of the central authority was at it's highest, the power of the king was at its highest in copan's history.
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keach: but even then, royal power was limited, according to archaeologist and co-director of several copan excavations david webster. webster: i think power is the ability of leaders to coerce people into doing things they don't want to do. you get power like that generally in one of two ways -- by having some kind of force or threat of force behind your demands, like a military force. or you get power by having something -- land, water, some scarce resource that other people need, and you manipulate them that way. i don't think maya kings were powerful in either sense. keach: the kings ruled not so much through power but through their authority to settle disputes, spearhead the common defense and control some land. they also gained enormous prestige by redistributing precious goods and by leading religious rituals. but the authority of the king suffered a critical blow in a.d. 738
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when 18 rabbit was captured and beheaded by the ruler of a rival city. adjoining 18 rabbit's palace was a smaller structure, the only known building erected by his successor, king smoke monkey. some archaeologists think it was a council house where the last weakened kings shared power with competing lineage heads. today, workers sift through the remains of the building, seeking clues to the fate of the kingdom. did the death of one king end the evolution of the copan state ? to find out, other archaeologists broaden the search for evidence of power changes in the valley's lineage compounds. very near to the 9n-8 compound is a series of large unexcavated mounds.
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here, david webster and his team prepare to excavate. they will cut the brush that has grown on top of the buildings, and then attempt to clear away the mystery of the lineage heads. as copan evolved from a chiefdom to a state, did the lineage heads acquire an additional source of power ? the team plots the size and distribution of the mounds. large variations will show significant differences in wealth. man: okay, bring it a couple of centimeters closer to you. okay, a little bit farther away from you. good, good, right there.
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keach: from their measurements, the archaeologists create a contour map. the tallest mounds outside of the acropolis surround a central courtyard. the largest mounds date to the time following the death of 18 rabbit. surrounding the large mounds are smaller ones. they are almost unnoticeable. digging into the small mounds, the team discovers low stone foundations once covered with pole and thatched houses. david webster. webster: there's a lot of this cobbled masonry with stuff taken right out of the river. the rooms are small. there's a whole string of these that go around the entire group here. apparently there was a concentric circle of them around the entire elite compound. these things have sleeping benches just like domestic residences usually do at copan. they have plenty of occupational debris,
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all sorts of trash -- broken pots, obsidian, grinding stones. there are burials associated with these buildings. in other words, these look just like domestic habitations. keach: they were houses, and if copan were still a chiefdom, no one could have lived in houses much bigger than these, not even the chiefs. there would have been no separate classes. on the large mounds in the center of the compound, the crew finds stones that are quite different from those in the small houses. large beveled blocks cover the tops of the mounds. webster has a good idea how the blocks were used. later, he heads for the royal compound to confirm his hunch.
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here was a corbel vault, one way of building a stone roof. it required a great deal of material and skilled labor to cut and assemble the vault stones. the archaeologists expected to find vaulted ceilings in the royal compound. they knew kings could afford such labor. suddenly, after the death of 18 rabbit, vaulted roofs began to appear in other lineage compounds as well. and instead of thatched roofs, the largest buildings now had expensive stone roofs. in the rubble of one, the archaeologists discovered another surprise. we've got another one under here, phil, that i don't think you did see. keach: the team unearths finely cut pieces of sculpture.
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each piece is carefully marked and drawn to identify where it originally fit on the building. the sculpture is taken back to a lab for analysis. lift it up -- we'll put some more sand. try there. that's good. that's good. keach: project artist barbara fash works with students to reconstruct a complete picture of the fragments. i think it looks good. keach: fash drew a reconstruction of the sculptures on the building's facade. quality work like this usually adorned only the palaces of maya kings, but here was significant non-royal wealth.
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did it belong to the lineage as a whole, or to one individual ? the final clue was found inside. these large raised platforms covered with white plaster are the sleeping benches once used by the lineage head. this was the palace of a nobleman surrounded by the small houses of his poor relatives. webster: we've got the other end over here. we've got a lot of the stones. keach: how did the lineage head rise so dramatically above his low-ranking kin ? individuals or groups usually acquire power by gaining control of an essential but scarce resource. webster and sanders want to identify that resource and understand how it was controlled.
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in agricultural societies, the scarce resource is either water or land. webster and sanders wonder -- might modern land use help explain the political evolution of the ancients ? the most fertile land has always been on the valley floor. that's why the maya first settled here. in the beginning, there were fewer people. then, as copan grew into a chiefdom, each lineage head managed a separate plot of land on behalf of his kin group. as the population grew more rapidly, settlement expanded far beyond the original community. in the valley, there was not enough land to go around. and just like today, thousands of farmers spread into the surrounding hillsides. sanders: as the population expands,
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they start colonizing these sloped areas which are more marginal agricultural land. and then as the population gets even larger, they are forced into the colonization of the other pockets of the valley. they must crop even the land up in these tiny little tributary valleys. keach: but the poor soils on these mountainsides could hardly produce enough food for the expanding population. to compensate, the maya were forced to produce even more food from their very best land. it is possible that they began a simple farming technique to grow crops here even in the dry season. david webster. webster: this little irrigation canal is the kind of thing the maya might have built hundreds or thousands of years ago to water these nice patches of green bottom land that you see here. you can get two or three crops a year off this kind of land if you have some sort of irrigation. people who have access to or who own this rich, irrigable part of the valley, which is only a very small portion of it,
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tend to be the wealthy and politically powerful people in the system. and i suspect it was very much like that among the pre-historic maya. keach: webster believes the low-ranking maya depended on the nobles just as these poor farmers depend on the modern landowners. during certain months of the year, a wealthy landowner permits these two men to grow food for their families on the rich bottom land. like the ancient maya, they plant without the aid of a plow. the farmers explain to william sanders they pay a steep price to feed their families. keach: the farmers pay the landowner not with cash or part of their crop, but with something equally precious -- their labor.
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the poor farmers live in these thatched huts. to fulfill their obligation to the landowner, they descend to the valley each day during the irrigation season to tend tobacco and other cash crops. like the poor modern farmers, the expanding ancient maya population also needed more food. the only place to grow enough was in the bottom land, and that was controlled by the lineage heads. when copan was a chiefdom, the lineage heads managed this land on behalf of their kin. gradually, with so many hungry relatives living in the surrounding hills, the lineage heads eventually exploited their control over the scarce bottom land. sanders and webster think that the new nobles granted access to the land only if their commoner relatives paid with their labor.
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below these buildings are earlier foundations. they show that the size of elite homes grew gradually over hundreds of years. then, beginning in a.d. 750, construction accelerated. what did the size of these new homes say about political power in the changing copan state ? archaeologists calculated the time required to construct the houses of the nobles. the noble palace at 9n-8 required about 9,000 person days. comparing that with the palace of 18 rabbit, the king only spent three times more labor than the noble. but the noble's palace required 90 times more labor than a commoner's house.
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it appears that copan society split into at least three classes -- royalty, commoners and a new class of nobles in between. archaeologists are now finding evidence of new noble wealth in dozens of lineage compounds throughout the valley. they wonder if the nobles began to seriously challenge the power of the kings. in the royal compound, archaeologists are beginning to re-examine the end of the copan dynasty. bill fash. just next to 18 rabbit's building, structure 22, was built a much smaller edifice. inside of it is a hieroglyphic bench which though badly deteriorated does contain one crucial detail. that is that the second glyph here reads "yax pac,"
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the name of the sixteenth and final ruler of copan. this is pretty typical for yax pac. what he seems to do is make smaller structures, or add on to previously existing buildings constructed by his predecessors, and then be sure to put his name on it in a prominent place. previously, we thought this meant that he was a great builder and had constructed everything in the acropolis. but now, through new excavations and new readings, we realize that all he did was add a final layer onto the top of the previously existing buildings. keach: when archaeologists excavated yax pac's tomb, it was empty. how did he die ? was he captured by a rival state or perhaps assassinated in a coup d'etat ? whatever his fate, yax pac was the last king of copan. after his death, no one consolidated rulership again. throughout its history, the growth of the copan state was always limited by the competing lineage heads
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and the political skills of the king. sanders: if he is a very charismatic individual, if he is very energetic and he is very sagacious in playing off one lineage head against the other, he may accumulate a great deal of power. but then if his successor is a relatively weak, un-energetic individual, then, of course, the lineage heads take over again. i think this is the natural pattern -- these ups and downs. decentralization is still there in the sense that you have got this class of people who have an independent source of power -- their own direct followers, you see. now what you have to do is eradicate that whole system of kin-based structure if you want to consolidate power. and i don't think that would have ever happened here. i don't think it ever happened anywhere in the maya lowlands. so i think there was a kind of ranked society combined with certain state institutions here at copan, and that's as far as it was going to go. keach: so how much farther did ancient states evolve ?
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where else might archaeologists find evidence of greatly centralized political power combined with a large number of social classes ? several new world states were larger than the kingdoms of the maya. but the most populous ancient states evolved in the old world. the ancient city of rome -- capital of an empire controlling 50 million people on three continents. the entire population of the copan kingdom would have fit within the colosseum. once, rome was smaller. but its political evolution continued where copan's ended. in the sixth century b.c.,
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the monarch of rome was overthrown by the families of aristocrats who lived here in what later became the roman forum. they shared power for five hundred years. but unlike copan, there was plenty of good farm land here. draft animals and the plow transformed the italian countryside. roman society prospered. wealthy families gradually bought land from neighbors who had fallen into debt. the sellers then labored for the new owners as tenant farmers. during the republican period in the first centuries before christ, the wealthiest families formed their own armies. their troops owed loyalty only to their individual general, and not to the state. by sharing power, the families prevented any one leader
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from consolidating rulership. the family armies combined to conquer territories in europe and northern africa. some of the generals became very powerful. returning home after battle, even victorious generals had to petition the state for money and land to pay their armies. rewards for the troops were always uncertain. as the armies became more successful, they began to fight among themselves. finally, in 31 b.c., one general defeated his rivals to centralize rulership. augustus caesar became the first true emperor of rome. classics scholar mary beard inspects the house of augustus on rome's palatine hill.
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she believes that his genius lay not so much in the way he won power, but in how he maintained it. augustus broke the ties of loyalty between the soldiers and their individual general. he did this first of all by establishing standard rules for army service. the soldiers knew how long they would serve for, what they would be paid, and they also knew that at the end of their service they would receive a bounty that was roughly the equivalent of fourteen years' pay. this had the effect of focusing the loyalty of the soldiers away from the individual general and onto the state, or if you like, onto augustus himself. keach: augustus had accomplished what no maya king could achieve. he broke down the power of the landed aristocrats. with full-time armies now loyal only to the emperor, the conquest of foreign territories accelerated.
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roman sailing ships easily transported the spoils of war from across the sea. imported slaves built thousands of new monuments to the new centralized rulership. the emperor controlled the military and most political institutions. but still, the families of aristocrats enjoyed countless riches. vast quantities of food, raw materials and manufactured goods poured into the capital city. much of this wealth remained at the top, but some trickled down to the other classes as well. this hierarchy of ancient power and wealth is well preserved in the ruins of herculaneum, 120 miles southeast from the capital in rome. the city of herculaneum rested on the shores of the mediterranean. its seaside buildings housed the boats of fishermen and traders.
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like its better known neighbor, pompeii, herculaneum was built in the shadow of vesuvius, which erupted in a.d. 79 to bury both cities in ash and lava. excavation superintendent tommasa budetta and her assistants dug through the lava to expose warehouses that once sat on the beach. inside, victims of the cataclysm as they waited to be rescued. interpreter: pouring into the streets from the stores, they went toward the beach, attempting to flee and to save themselves by sea.
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here they waited for ships to take them to safe shores. unfortunately, they were choked and crushed under the volcanic debris. naturally, at the moment of the eruption, rich and poor found themselves together, one on top of the other in the rooms which i have behind my shoulders. keach: jewelry of gold and gems distinguished the hands of some. but fate was equally cruel to all classes, an egalitarian ending to lives of privilege and poverty alike. only in the houses did archaeologists find the true range of herculaneum's wealth. as in many roman cities, the poorest citizens left few permanent signs of their time on earth. they crowded into tiny rooms or slept in back alleys.
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others lived in tenements. but in herculaneum and other roman cities there existed economic layers that we might call middle classes. some of these people owned the shops that lined the city's streets. this one fronted a multi-family apartment building built around this common atrium. roman society differed from the maya primarily in the number of its classes. between the emperor and a slave spread a broad spectrum of wealth and power. mary beard brings her knowledge of roman history to the archaeological evidence. she recreates a hypothetical interaction between a shopkeeper and the much wealthier owner of a large house compound next door. let's imagine that the shopkeeper
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had fallen into debt, or maybe he wanted to find a job for one of his sons. who was he going to turn to ? well, outside his own family, he'd turn to a patron -- perhaps the man who owned this house here. a shopkeeper as he sat on this nch outside the door waiting to go in to ask his favor would probably have felt pretty apprehensive. keach: behind a simple door is a compound of 20 rooms, including slave quarters. but most public business was conducted where the participants could be seen. beard: it's not surprising that the shopkeeper would have felt a bit intimidated as he walked into this house, because the whole architecture of the house -- the sense of depth, the sense of height, the lavish decoration on the walls -- all that served to enhance the power and prestige of the house's owner. it was almost designed to intimidate. keach: but perhaps the owner was himself a client who had to ask for support from a wealthier patron
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who lived in yet a larger house, like this one surrounding a central courtyard. numerous long hallways connected over 30 rooms. but what made this house most valuable was its location. before the volcano blanketed the city, this complex had a commanding view of the sea. the owner was probably also a client, perhaps to a senator in rome, or even directly to the emperor himself. the empire was divided into numerous layers -- an interlocking hierarchy of patrons and clients, people on each level extracting what they could from the conquest state. mary beard reads the promise of the state on a bakers tomb
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modeled after an ancient roman oven. it was larger than that of many maya kings. beard: there's an inscription on the tomb that gives the baker's name. like most roman citizens at this date, he's got three names -- marcus virgilius euriciques. now the first two of those names, "marcus virgilius," are perfectly standard, ordinary roman names, but the last one, "euriciques," isn't. it's a name that comes from the eastern mediterranean. now that suggests -- doesn't prove, but it suggests -- that euriciques' family, perhaps his father, perhaps his grandfather, originally were brought to rome as slaves, captives in rome's wars of conquest in the east. so the larger point is that in the expanding society of rome at this period, even the descendant of a slave could become really wealthy. keach: many pre-industrial states offered the prospect of upward mobility for their people. but they also created poverty and squalor
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unimaginable in egalitarian societies. in modern states, technology often widens the gap between rich and poor. and so, anthropologists insist that political evolution does not imply progress. in fact, human nature appears to be constant. individuals in all societies have long strived for status, prestige and even domination over others. whether or not they succeed depends partly on birthright and talent, but mostly on the nature of the society and its relationship to the environment. at one time, all humans lived in egalitarian bands or tribes. then, as populations grew, some charismatic individuals gained more prestige than others. prestige became formalized and inherited by selected heirs. as population grew even larger, resources often became limited.
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small groups monopolized the wealth, and classes emerged. around the world, states evolved to protect the elite classes, relying on force to centralize rulership. 6,000 years ago, no one on earth lived in a state. today, states are the dominant form of political organization. but technology revolutionizes political change in sometimes unpredictable ways. perhaps in the twenty-first century, still new forms of political organization may evolve, as new generations look to the future with lessons learned out of the past.
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